E A Bowles is revered for his knowledge of plants and gardening, and for his ability to spot a worthwhile plant - whether a sport or an unusual variation in the wild. Among the best of the finds that he introduced was a yellow form of our native wood millet grass, Milium effusum Aureum, commonly known as Bowles' Golden Grass.
In its green form it is a pretty plant but in its golden guise takes on an almost magical quality, bringing incandescent light to the shady places it prefers. During the year it passes through several stages. At each it takes on a very specific persona and makes a different contribution to the garden.
In early spring the leaves catch the sun as it shines through the bare branches. As the season progresses the grass burgeons and elegant clumps are formed from which the flowers emerge.
When they raise their heads clear of the foliage each slender inflorescence opens, broadening into a graceful branching head. Tiny golden, bead-like flowers are borne on hair-thin stems.
The bright leaves change gradually to vivid lime-green as the overhead canopy thickens and shade increases. The flowers are replaced by seed and the stems arch gracefully under the added weight creating fountains of gold. Even in mid-winter, if the weather is not too harsh, the bright foliage makes a light-hearted contrast to the sobriety of fallen leaves.
Milium effusum Aureum has been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM)
Sowing: Sow February to April
Sow the seeds 0.5cm (¼ in) deep in pots or trays of good quality seed compost, keep moist.
Maintain a gentle warmth or around 15 to 20°C (60 to 68°F). Germination can be slow and erratic, and seedling growth is slow, so patience may be needed. Once the seedlings have developed 2 to 4 leaves, thin (prick out) to larger individual pots to grow on. Gradually harden off before planting out to final position in May spacing 12 to 24in (30 to 60cm) apart.
All golden-leaved plants fare best in shady conditions as hot sun scorches their thin leaf surface. Choose a sheltered slightly shady position, at the edge of a shady border, or plant in groups as part of a woodland planting scheme.
Milium is a woodland grass, incorporate leaf-mould or home-made compost when planting. Mulch with leaf-mould or bark to retain moisture and suppress weeds.
This hardy but relatively short-lived perennial comes true from seed and self-sows readily. Although you can tidy up by cutting back to the ground never do it while the plants are still bearing seed, or you'll deprive yourself of the next generation. In early spring self sown seedlings may surface, leave them to grow or prick them out and replant where you prefer them.
In autumn, seed can be collected by running finger and thumb from the base of the flower stem upwards. It can be broadcast, sown in situ immediately after collection, or sown in a seed tray in loam-based seed compost.
Shade and woodland gardens, Borders and Beds, Low Maintenance
Native to Europe, from the west of Ireland and Britain and east to Siberia and the Himalayas but excluding the Mediterranean. The wood millet grass, Milium effusum, frequents damp shady woods, especially oak and beech, on heavy humus rich lime soils.
It is sown for its ornamental value and as food for game birds.
The genus name Milium derives from the Latin miliacea meaning pertaining to millet, or millet-like. It is commonly called the Golden Millet Grass
The species name effusum derives from the Latin effuse meaning ‘loosely spreading’ describing the plants arching habit. The variety name aureum simply means ‘golden’.
The common name Bowles Golden Grass is for E. A. Bowles, a British horticulturalist, plantsman and garden writer who introduced this variety into cultivation.
E. A. Bowles, (1865-1954)
Edward Augustus (Gus or Gussie) Bowles, known professionally as E. A. Bowles, was a British horticulturalist, plantsman and garden writer. He developed an important garden at Myddelton House, his lifelong home in Enfield, Middlesex and his name has been preserved in many varieties of plant.
E. A. Bowles was born at his family's home, Myddelton House. He was of Huguenot descent through his maternal great-grandmother and his father, Henry Carington Bowles was Chairman of the New River Company, which until 1904 controlled the artificial waterway that flowed past Myddelton, bringing water to London from the River Lea.
Through his elder brother Henry, Bowles was the great uncle of Andrew Parker Bowles (born 1939), whose first wife, Camilla Shand, became Duchess of Cornwall on her marriage to Charles, Prince of Wales in 2005.
Bowles gave his name to upwards of forty varieties of plant, and there are others that originated with him. For example, he named a hellebore 'Gerrard Parker' after a local art master, Crocus tommasinianus 'Bobbo' after the boy who first spotted it and Rosmarinus officinalis 'Miss Jessopp's Upright' after a gardening neighbour.
Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve' was among "200 plants for 200 years" chosen by the RHS to mark its bicentenary in 2004 and, to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the Chelsea Flower Show in 2013, was shortlisted (from among introductions between 1973-83) as one of ten "plants of the centenary".
Other significant introductions included Viola 'Bowles' Black', cotton lavender 'Edward Bowles' (Santolina pinnata subsp. neopolitana). Vita Sackville-West cites the yellow and brown Crocus chrysanthus 'E.A. Bowles' as among the first bulbs to flower in her garden at Sissinghurst, while another spring plant, the slow growing Muscari 'Bowles's Peacock', is commended by Richard Hobbs, holder of the British National Plant Collection of Muscari.
E A Bowles brought into cultivation several other yellow-leaved grasses and sedges. He also introduced a golden form of the wood sedge, Luzula sylvatica 'Aurea' and found Carex elata 'Aurea' on Wicken Fen, one of his favourite hunting grounds. It has been described by another doyen of plantsmen, Christopher Lloyd, as "a plant to treasure, its colour changing in unexpected ways".
In 1908 Bowles was elected to the Council of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), whose grounds at Wisley, Surrey, now contain a memorial garden to him. Bowles received the society's highest award, the Victoria Medal of Honour, in 1916 and was a Vice-President from 1926 until his death almost thirty years later. RHS colleagues knew him as 'Bowley'.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 20 mg Average Seed Count 30 Seeds Common Name Bowles Golden Grass Other Common Names Golden Millet Grass Family Poaceae Genus Milium Species effusum Aureum Hardiness Hardy Perennial Natural Flower Time Midsummer to early autumn Foliage Golden, turning light green, broad linear leaves Height 60cm (24in) Spread 30cm (12in) Position Prefers a sheltered slightly shady position Soil Humus-rich, moist but well-drained soil